What is Charles Burnett, the director of brilliant, oppressive tales of Black life like KILLER OF SHEEP and MY BROTHER'S WEDDING doing directing a made-for-TV movie on the Hallmark Channel? The flip and glib answer is that he is a director and can use the work, but watching this movie with its constant level of pain for the first fifty minutes, the answer is: telling the same sort of story he always has. If the settings are cleaner than his earlier work, if the actors are handsomer and more professional, there is still the same sense of anguish and alienation that always suffuses his work.
Eriq LaSalle plays Walter, a man who was set to be a professional football player until a knee injury sidelined him. He left his wife, children and hometown and wandered for the better part of a decade until the death of his father brings him back to town for the reading of the will. Anger and resentment suffuse every scene and rightfully and really so. As Walter struggles almost incoherently to try to make some amends for his failures, Burnett and his crew evoke some real sympathy for his plight.
However, this being a Hallmark TV-movie, there are some givens: there will be reconciliation, there will be some improvement, and this serves to render the film not banal, but more standard. As a result, this is a very good piece of work, but not a great one.
Yet, given the small amount of Mr. Burnett's work over the last forty years, we can be grateful for this. It is a real story, well told and that, alas, is all too rare.
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